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Between The Buried And Me – [Discography]

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Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Some bands come readymade. That statement sounds like a slight, because critics have used the term as a synonym for ‘prefabricated,’ but in some cases, it can be complimentary. Bands like AC/DC, Green Day, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Social Distortion appear on the public radar fully formed, with everything they’re shooting for in place and are just looking for a time—not a place—from which to begin and move forward. While small variations in personnel may occur that slightly alter the band in question’s sound, the vision remains the same. That is one kind of drive.

There are other bands however—like Wilco, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden and Between The Buried And Me—for which to route to the top of their games happens in front of an audience. Fans may not recognize them from where they start to where they ultimately arrive. Between The Buried And Me has been a band that, since forming in 2001, has been in a near-constant state of evolution. In seven years the band’s line-up has changed nine times and each time the band’s sound has mutated; changing nine times to date in search of its evolutionary—but not creative—endpoint. The thing is, only time will tell if the band has reached that point; the beauty of music is that creating it is an ongoing endeavour so while the growth that Between The Buried And Me has already experienced is significant, it also bears the promise of untold possibility.

Self Titled

Between The Buried And Me
(Lifeforce/Victory, 2001) Buy it on Amazon.

Back when BTBAM started, their approach and resulting sound bore little resemblance to the math-ish-punk-metal they’d be exorcising in 2008. Amid an avalanche of crunching, meticulous guitars and bludgeoning drums, singer Tommy Rogers unleashes a series of incomprehensible but constipated snarls and shrieks (consult the liners for what he’s on about—it’s the only way you’re going to pick up the lyrics on this disc) -ostensibly cementing the math and prog influences in the ‘technique over content’ attack of songs including “Arsonist,” “What We Have Become” and the curiously glacial intro of “Naked By The Computer” shatter into precarious flows as the molten guitars manufactured by Paul Waggoner poke through and demolish the serenity.

Each of BTBAM’s original eight tracks clocks in at an average of five minutes, but because each goes in so many directions, the album seems much longer and more daunting that should be possible for a forty-two-minute runtime; simply put, Between The Buried And Me is exhausting.

Apparently the uninitiated weren’t the only ones that ran the risk of exhausting themselves either; the liner notes that accompany the album make a special point of noting that, “Between The Buried And Me was (at the time of recording)” and hence implying that the group’s line-up was already in flux and its future in question. It sets a tone for the band’s recorded output too: players come and players go, but the vision remains.

The Silent Circus

The Silent Circus
(Victory 2003, reissued 2006) Buy it on Amazon.

Two years later and Between The Buried And Me reappeared a significantly altered beast from the incarnation that committed the band’s debut to tape. Instantly noticeable in the seven-minute-and-fourteen-second, two-track opus “Lost Perfection” that opens the record is that while the band can still bludgeon like nobody’s business, they’ve started doing more of the math and shifting dynamics dramatically to move the songs along. Veering wildly between textural movements (as best evidenced on “Camilla Rhodes”) that encompass everything from slamming hardcore tension to vintage metal swagger to death metal battery and histrionics, the group paints an all-new portrait of doom. The result sometimes sounds, as in “Mordecai," like something one might hear at the lip of the apocalypse . Following suit, Tommy Rogers virtually sings in tongues as he exposes a vocal dexterity unrivalled in modern metal. Mid-record here, the singer shifts from fairly standard issue death metal grunts and scatological screeches to the most delicate and (sounds like) professionally trained tenor ever performed in this sort of context.

That moment (somewhere between “Mordecai” and “Shenavel Take 2”) is an epiphany for listeners; if you thought you had Between The Buried And Me pegged, you don’t. In three tracks, the image that the band has so painstakingly cultivated evaporates and what remains could be construed as the genuine make-up of this band: a group of ragingly talented players that are beginning to get over the insecurities that forced them to shred lungs and fret boards in order to put up a hard front.

At that point, the breakthrough has been made and, while BTBAM dives neck-deep back into the grinding, metallic prog stew that has become the band’s staple, they’re changed. There are more melodies ingrained and the band opens up to accommodate them. The effect, not unlike a fish learning to walk, is revelatory.

Alaska

Alaska
(Victory, 2005) Buy it on Amazon.

While Alaska was most definitely a different sort of record for the band, it’s difficult to know what to make of it. Virtually since its release, the members of Between The Buried And Me themselves have gone on the record publicly as saying Alaska is their weakest album—partially because they were still trying to figure out how to work together. Bassist Dan Briggs, then one of three new kids on the block in a band that only houses five, has gone on the record in the years since Alaska’s release as saying that the album was “a bit of a mess,” but, even in that haphazard state, the band was still growing.

According to the bassist, the new members of the band and those left were pulling in opposite directions during during the writing process and thus causing internal stress for the band. Even so though, it’s interesting that the songs are actually better for the conflict; now more regularly melodic and incorporating new sounds including both hardcore and goth, songs like “Selkies: The Endless Obsession” are much more spry and sonically varied and, while the band brews up a salacious cocktail, singer Tommy Rogers uses his ever-expanding vocal palette to colour the songs rather than simply paint in monochromatic shades of black.

Elsewhere, Between The Buried And Me showcases a form of compositional song writing heretofore unseen in the band’s work with “Breathe In, Breathe Out." Stretching still further, the atmospheric touchings of “Medicine Wheel” must have been written by the band in order to try its hand at creating an introspective mood.

While the band has ceased supporting this album, it does sketch out some interesting avenues for further exploration if they do go back, and it does express a lot of possibilities.

The Anatomy Of

The Anatomy Of…
(Victory, 2006) Buy it on Amazon.

Perhaps because no one in the band found the process of making Alaska particularly fulfilling is the reason why Between The Buried And Me elected to go back to earlier than the band’s own beginnings for their fourth release. The Anatomy Of breaks down exactly what got the individual members of BTBAM on the road in the first place with a set of remarkably revealing covers running the gamut from Metallica to Motley Crue to Queen to Smashing Pumpkins to Faith No More.

BTBAM clearly respects each of the groups covered here greatly because they don’t attempt to crossbreed them with their own sound in any way; instead electing to recreate the songs as closely as possible to the original versions. One could theorize that such an approach would make The Anatomy Of a throwaway record—a soft option musically—but the truth is that adherence and attention to the sounds of the original recordings actually makes the album that much more interesting because each of them is so challenging and such a step away from any of the sounds that the band has attempted previously.

The Anatomy Of is, for the uninitiated, a great way to make introductions with Between The Buried And Me as well. Using well-established songs like “Bicycle Race,” “Geek U.S.A” and “Kickstart My Heart” and doing them the way BTBAM does (close to the originals but with a harder edge) gives listeners an idea of where they came from and they can’t help but be infectious because of the enthusiasm with which they’re performed . The band can’t bring themselves to mess with the songs too much, and so the metal growling that has always marked Between The Buried And Me’s work is abandoned wholesale. Tommy Rogers’ vocals are cleaner than any long-time fan could imagine as he hits every requisite note in pitch-perfect tone and only overdriving his voice if the singer that performed it originally did so—but it never has the same bite.

In short, The Anatomy Of is a remarkable gratifying listen because it gives some older songs a really solid update and gives a little of the back story regarding what thrilled the members of Between The Buried And Me when they were kids.It probably wouldn’t work if the band tried something like this again (then there would be no doubt that the band’s creatively stuck) but, for a one-off, The Anatomy Of is a great listen.

Colours

Colours
(Raybeez/Victory) Buy it on Amazon.

Having now found their center and from note one illustrating that they’ll be a band to be reckoned with, Between The Buried And Me returned in 2007 with Colours—a record that still remains true to its heritage and history, but now with more age, wisdom and better song writing facilities developed than the band has ever been able to boast.

Kicking off with the delicate piano and classic rock-tinged (flecks of Queen, Rush and even The Beatles abound early), “Foam Born (A) The Backtrack," the band wastes no time in showing its audience how much its matured; gone are the unrelenting onslaughts and usually unintelligible vocals and, in their place rests a series of solid, measured and aggressive rock tunes that flow seamlessly between movements of caustic and meticulous metal and tidy passages of both prog and math rocks. The hypnotic, tribal interplay of “Informal Gluttony” and the cascading hardcore/metal hybrid of “Ants Of The Sky” run the band through their paces at speeds so fast they can’t help but break new ground for the group, and “Prequel To The Sequel” is the most majestic instrumental moment the band has had to date. Still, it’s “Viridian” that steals the show. As the band tends to do a couple of times per record now (though only once here), “Viridian” lets Between The Buried And Me stretch out stylistically with some Smashing Pumpkins-esque simple/reflective leads (this one fairly drips of SP’s “Mayonnaise”) before closing out the album with the big-huge “White Walls."

On Colours, Between The Buried And Me has finally settled into a groove; they’re no longer earnestly posturing as they did in their first couple of releases and they’re not frantically trying to find out how best to make their vision work. With Colours, they’ve successfully arrived in the niche from which they can best make an impact; not quite metal, not quite hardcore, not quite progressive rock—but an amalgam of the lot that is uniquely the band’s own. Now—from here on out—is where things are going to get interesting.

Download – "Camilla Rhodes" from The Silent Circus – [mp3]

Download – "Mordecai" from The Silent Circus – [mp3]

For more information visit www.betweentheburiedandme.com or myspace.com/betweentheburiedandmeband

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